Law Schools

InfiLaw temporarily suspends license application to buy Charleston School of Law

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Updated: The day before the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education was set to vote on InfiLaw’s bid to purchase and run Charleston School of Law, the company’s leaders suspended the request.

In a statement (PDF) issued Wednesday, InfiLaw said it pulled its bid at the request of South Carolina Sen. John E. Courson, and that its application suspension is only temporary.

“We, like Senator Courson, are concerned by the conflict between the staff recommendation to approve the license, the committee’s recommendation to deny the license and the attorney general’s opinion, which establishes clearly that the CHE can only make licensure decisions based on the criteria articulated in law and regulation, which is what the staff did in making its recommendation,” the statement reads. “Given these circumstances, we want to give the commission additional time to consider and reconcile these issues, including responses to questions we submitted just a few days ago. … We are committed to this acquisition and intend to renew our application in due course.”

John Robinson, president of the Charleston School of Law’s alumni board, told the Charleston Post and Courier that InfiLaw likely pulled out because it was afraid its application would be denied. “If InfiLaw thought they were going to win, surely they would have gone ahead with the vote.”

The Post and Courier could not reach the three current owners of Charleston School of Law for comment Wednesday.

Charleston School of Law was once a profitable venture, producing $25 million in profits for its founders, a group of five judges and lawyers.

Ohio State University law professor Steven Davidoff cited that figure in an article for the New York Times DealBook blog to show the irony in critics’ claim that the school should not be purchased by InfiLaw, a for-profit corporation. No one complained when the owners withdrew millions in profits from the school, Davidoff says.

The controversy over the potential sale “may just boil down to snobbery and who should be allowed to attend law school,” Davidoff writes. The school was established to turn a profit and to provide a second law school in South Carolina to feed graduates into local jobs, he says. “Lost among the dispute is the fact that a lower-tier law school like Charleston—whoever owns it—can not only produce capable graduates but help students start careers they couldn’t have without a law degree.”

In a Post and Courier article published last month, a lawyer for InfiLaw contended withdrawal of the $25 million in profits left the school “in a financial tailspin,” and the solution was for InfiLaw to buy the school. Also contributing to the school’s woes is a decline in enrollment.

InfiLaw has already provided a $6 million advance to buy out two of the school’s five owners.

The Post and Courier is citing the financial figures in an editorial that argues the law school’s past stability shows it is able to operate without InfiLaw’s help. “It doesn’t make sense to gamble on an unpopular change when the current school structure has worked well—and is still a viable option,” the newspaper says.

Prior coverage: “Are InfiLaw’s for-profit law schools succeeding? Plan to buy fourth school spurs concerns”

Updated at 6:51 p.m. to note that InfiLaw has suspended its license application.

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